IBI Watch 3/10/13

10 03 2013

Globalization’s Ups and Downs //

 “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.” – James Branch Cabell

Though I fall in neither group, that favorite quote comes to mind whenever I watch the first of two videos I am about to link with. It also comes to mind when I look at the incredible, towering wave of new climate change information that seems poised to break over us about now. More on that in a bit.

First, bear with me for a brief back story. At my job, in learning and organization development, one of my responsibilities is running the orientation program for new managers. This is a series of presentations and seminars led by key organizational leaders. One of the presentations covers workforce planning. To place the new managers into a big-picture frame of mind, we show a video that paints a rosy picture of rapid global change. It is called “Did You Know?” and is really quite good. No wonder it’s closing in on 5 million views. But the thing is now six years old, and consequently contains some laughably outdated facts. So every time I have run the orientation program in the past five years, part of my prep is to seek a suitable update. No luck. Until now, sort of.

Many hucksters have not been able to leave a good thing alone, so many Did You Know? updates include marketing messages – how can you reach millions of new customers worldwide, etc. Not good for my orientation program, and in my opinion not good for anything else.

My latest find won’t make it into the orientation program either, but it is very watchable (unlike some frenetic follow-ups), and most important of all, points a justifiably jaundiced eye at global change. It is even a bit dark for my taste, but the news that arrives every week justifies that take, in my book.

Enough of the back story. Here is the original, backed by a wonderfully contemplative musical soundscape. And here, with a bumpier score, is an update made a year or so later.

This question of optimism or pessimism is all-important. I have been told by several people that I must be very pessimistic, given the subject matter I choose to research and relate in my citizen commentaries. And in fact, I know enough based on my reading to accept the fact that this sickly hilarious dystopia is in the cards if we don’t change course.

But I stick with my philosophy, which I call informed optimism. That is, learn as much as you can about what is really going on, and do whatever you can to keep the worst case from unfolding. If enough of us adopt this approach, we can elect rational, fact-based leaders who transform our system into a sustainable one.

 

Ramping Up Carbon and Heat

Those of us who have been watching this climate crisis unfold – in my case since the 1980s – are running out of terms for the evidence that continues to unfold, almost daily. This week has been even more dramatic than most. Here are a few terms to try on for size – Amazing, atypical, unprecedented and the most colorful of all – we are screwed. What is this latest plague of arm-waving about? Nothing much – just new evidence that the “hockey stick” is no fable. Warming in the last 100 years is 50 times faster than the cooling that had been occurring over the previous 5000. In other words, we are now a force of nature, and a force that has the power to destroy nature, or at least the nature that allows us to maintain our wonderful civilization and the lion’s share of the biodiversity that graces our planetary home.

You can see a lot more detail on the new research results at those above links, and also view a collection of charts here in Mother Jones, and here at the fortress of radical, sky-is-falling propaganda, NOAA. For more, here is an article discussing giant atmospheric waves and their connection with extreme weather, like, for just a single example, the recent virtually stationary storm that pounded New England.

 

Climate Change Victims of Many Stripes

As we in the comfortable west concoct self-absolving excuses for building the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, people around the world are already suffering the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction. As with so many environmental calamities, those least responsible for the destruction are suffering the most, at least for now. This Root article points out how people of color right here in America face higher risk than others from several factors directly related to human caused climate change – in particular, proximity to coal plants and exposure to heat waves.  Here is the connection between the Arab Spring and climate change.

While we in America have been dealing with a series of snow dumps (laughably dismissed by denialists like Inhofe), Australia has suffered through one hellacious southern summer. The Australian government has dubbed it the Angry Summer. And then there are those residents of doomed tropical paradises like Kiribati’s 100,000 natives. (The free viewing of the new movie The Angry Tide has been disabled, but you can view the trailer here.)

 

Doing Something about Climate Change

Fortunately, there is so much more than pignorance (pretend-ignorance) out there. Maybe, just maybe, this growing wave of awareness and commitment will convince President Obama – who talked a good game on climate change commitment in his State of the Union message – to take real action in rejecting Keystone and taking all actions possible to build a sustainable energy system that protects the planet.

Here are some fine examples of people taking action right now. First, Van Jones, who in any rational country would be presidential material, stands up cheerfully to major negative baiting from Wolf Blitzer in this CNN clip. It’s really quite a display of propaganda-fueled belligerence on Blitzer’s part – is this guy hoping to supplant Windbaugh or what?! And then there is Darryl Hannah – a committed activist who has been arrested in recent demonstrations against Keystone – passionately delivering one of the most eloquent explanations of the climate crisis that I have seen. And best of all, she is promoting a new movie on the REAL climate hoax, the one perpetrated by Big Oil and Big Coal and pushed by the likes of Lyin’ Jim Inhofe. Its none-too-subtle title tells the story – Greedy Lying Bastards. Hannah also mentions the uber-issue that must be solved – corporate pollution of politics and policy. Here is one more famous name – at least in climate change circles. Michael Mann is the hockey-stick guy himself, and was caught up in that phony “Climategate” scandal a few years back.  Could be sweet revenge, even if the latest development gets only a fraction of the attention Fox News lavished on those liars – Mann is suing for defamation.

Taking action is by no means the exclusive realm of the big names. First – one more morsel of proof that young people will do a much better job than we pathetic boomers have – read this on a hot college course subject. Next – blogger Laura Sabransky (offers this humorous yet helpful cheat sheet on climate change arguments. And for the genuinely adventurous, the Climate Reality Project (for which I am a certified presenter) has a new feature, a game really, that allows committed persons to work against denialism – Reality Drop. Learn about it here.

 

An Anniversary We’d Like to Forget . . . But Dare not

It’s the anniversary of the Bush Administration’s great war of choice, the invasion of Iraq, 10 years ago this month. For the continuing costs of that great disaster, it is hard to find a better source than Coleen Rowley. The ex-FBI agent has been a progressive activist since retiring from federal service, and was one of the voices crying out for full investigation of terror conspiracies before 9/11. In this commentary she wrote for the Star Tribune, Rowley retells in detail the awful consequences of the Bush-Cheney adventure. Here is another hard-hitting column, this one by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. She focuses on Cheney, and points to a new movie detailing his de facto seizure of the reins during those dark days. It’s The World According to Dick Cheney, and we will be living in it for a very long time.

Most accounts looking back on the Iraq war will focus on the tremendous cost in life and treasure. But some costs were also more subtle, but not unimportant.  Remember all the antiquities destroyed in the initial bombardment and looted in the aftermath?   And in a touch of irony, Bush’s war, which his administration started under a banner of clashing civilizations, even using the term “crusade” for a time, has hastened the demise of the language of Jesus, Aramaic. Though this NPR story does not explicitly mention Bush’s war, when narrator Jackie Lyden said that many thousands of Iraqi speakers had fled the region “in the last decade,” it was clear the reason why.

For a completely different perspective on that time (or what led up to it), I liked Sarah Vowell’s essay on This American Life. Her topic is actually racism and Rosa Parks, but her mention of Katharine Harris – Florida’s 2000 Secretary of State and arguably the biggest force in stopping the vote counting and ultimately handing the state and the presidency to Bush – makes it relevant here, sort of. Hey – no Katharine Harris, no President W, no Iraq war . . . and so on.

 

Long Live the Voting Rights Act

One look at the recent efforts by the Republican Party at gaming the election system with photo id laws, “accidental” mismanagement of voting machine availability, disinformation via robocalls, etc., tells any reasonable person that the Voting Rights Act has decidedly not outlived its necessity. However, a certain Supreme Court justice thinks otherwise, and he is not playing around.

I can think of no one more qualified to respond to Justice Scalia than Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. First Stewart – hard to fault the logic, and funny as hell to boot. You will know more about Shelby County AL than you ever knew you needed to. And Stephen Colbert’s guest, Julian Bond, makes an apt comparison for us. Maybe Blitzer has some competition?

I don’t know what the fuss is about. As this Sack cartoon shows, Justice Scalia might just be a nice old guy in the park, feeding the bird.

One Idea for a Better World

If only . . . In honor of International Women’s Day.

 

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” –
Neil DeGrasse Tyson

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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IBI Watch 11/11/12

11 11 2012

Real Climate Action Soon?  //

Many progressives criticized President Obama for inaction on the climate crisis in his first term.  And despite some progress – most notably, dramatically higher fuel economy standards phasing in – I think the criticism is somewhat justified.  But the election offers an opportunity, and some hints of impending progress.

First, a short video that connects the dots very effectively between the melting Arctic and increasingly chaotic world weather.  Second, a Guardian piece that goes into the risks that ‘business-as-usual’ entails for business.  And next, Dean Baker tells it like it is – if we really care about our grandchildren and beyond, the climate is hugely more important than the debt ceiling.  And here it is – hope against hope – hints of an actual, serious discussion of what McKibben and most climate activists are fighting for – a carbon tax that speeds the switch to clean energy before it is too late.  If that revenue were seen as helping with the deficit, maybe, just maybe money may finally start talking sense.

And while we are at it, how about a big switch to greener policy?  This article dares to suggest that the Republicans might even see it in their interest to stop opposing all protection of the environment.

 

Fighting to Save the Climate

Two upcoming events are stirring up interest in acting for rational climate policy.  First, Bill McKibben has the fossil fuel industry in his sights as he runs a national speaking tour right now.  Here is a piece he wrote for the LA Times recently.

I am sorry to say that I did not act quickly enough to get a ticket for the Minneapolis leg of his tour. But of course my missing out is actually a good thing – it means that interest is high, as it needs to be.

Here is another event that we will not need to leave home to participate in.  It’s the Dirty Weather Report from the Climate Reality Project, coming up on November 14.  The connection is right on – dirty fossil fuel leads to dirty weather.

 

A Doubter Fesses Up

That doubter would be yours truly. Once in a while, I enjoy being wrong. Tuesday November 7 was one of those times. Based on the infuriating debacles of 2000 and 2004, I had convinced myself that the presidential election would be close enough for the dirty tricks machine to kick in.  I debated this point with a friend and colleague, who was convinced, even after President Obama’s stumble in the first debate, and the poll reports of a tightening race, even with  Gallup, that supreme pollmeister, suggesting a lead for Romney, that there was little for progressives to worry about.  The man of the hour – the new go-to guy – is not actually a pollster himself, but a master amalgamator and analyst. Even with some prominent polls and media suggesting a photo finish in the horse race, he kept projecting an Obama victory, with probability ranging from 60 to 80 percent. Nate Silver is now officially golden in my book.

I am guilty of excessive doubt with an explanation (and lots of company). This piece by Ilyse Hogue on the CNN site provides a survey of the strategies in place before the election, and ready for deployment.  AlterNet’s Joshua Holland also awaited skullduggery. Doonesbury also showed us Garry Trudeau’s take – the Jimmy Crow Show.  Do you think the face-plant by the modern dirty trickmaster – Karl Rove – means we have seen the last of stolen elections?  Don’t count on it.

 

Schadenfreude Central

Sorry, but I can’t resist. The image that best describes Karl Rove’s tumble is this – it’s as if his mud and smear machine – which he has used to splatter his opponents for the better part of two decades – has backed up, and exploded all over his doughy mug. Here are three glorious takes.  First – Craig Unger – author of a book on the Bush dynasty that I can recommend – documents some severe losses for Bush’s Brain.  Lauren Kelley regales us with five very bad things happening to our very bad guy. But no one tells the story quite like Jon Stewart. The avalanche still echoes.

 

My State – A No BS Zone

I have not felt for a long time quite the exhilaration that I felt in voting NO on both constitutional amendments. We Minnesotans – natives and transplants like me – just did not buy the baloney dished out by Mary Kiffmeyer and her cabal, and the spendy billboards telling us to ‘Protect my vote.’  I am one proud Minnesotan.

 

Magic Undead

Yes, the election is done for now, until the 2016 campaign starts (in just a few days).  And lines are being drawn of course.  The Republicans seem ready to drive the bus over the cliff, ostensibly to protect against ‘job-killing tax increases on small business.’ Just consider what Speaker Boehner is saying.  Just read his lips.  Sound familiar?  The magic of course is the hocus-pocus that suggests ‘more revenue’ can come from reform and lowering tax rates.

One thing that has bugged me about this whole discussion is terms.  Why not ‘tax restoration?’ What is at issue right now is expiration of Bush-era tax CUTS.  As this article points out, the economy did just fine a couple of decades ago, when marginal tax rates were higher.  On the other hand, how much have the vaunted ‘job creators’ done in this period of lower rates? All the Republican leaders –both Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – are doing is ‘dancing with them what brung them,’ i.e. looking after the greed-based interests of the most moneyed class.

Paul Krugman advises the re-elected President Obama to stand firm.  And here is a video showing how many Republican candidates paid a dear price for signing onto Grover Norquist’s government- drowning campaign.  Positively inspiring.

Professor Krugman once again closes this segment with a final comment on the magical thinking at the heart of the modern Republican Party’s agenda.  Do you believe in magic?  Me neither.

 

Brain Wars

On this Veterans Day, here is some recognition of the tremendous work Daniel Zwerdling has done to make sure veterans with brain injuries of all types receive the health care they need and deserve.

 

Who Runs the Show?  Really?

You don’t have to be a conspiracy monger to believe – as I do – that the US government has become so corporatist that its main purpose today is to clear the way for major international corporations to do what they do best.  That would be to produce massive profits for shareholders and executives, other interests be damned.  But this piece – suggested by a friend – details just how powerful those big dogs really are.

 

Binders Not Required

One of the biggest stories of the election is the large numbers of women elected.  And it is about damned time.  It made me think of a recent article by David Morris that focuses on three institutions that have something in common.  Those three institutions are the Boy Scouts, the Vatican and Wall Street

But back to the election.  Consider New Hampshire. And look at the big pictureCommentator Maureen Dowd sees the re-election of President Obama as an end to patriarchy.

Can you imagine how diverse Congress would be if the districting system were anything like fair?

 

Change for the Better

While looking for something else, I happened upon an impressive collection of organizations working to create an election system that better represents the public interest.  Some of my favorites are listed here.  Maybe they can be yours, too.

 

“Allow all the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and that only is self-government.”

– Abraham Lincoln

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper, Tammie Stadt





IBI Watch 11/4/12

4 11 2012

Play Dumb or Act Smart – Time to Choose  //

This week’s latest monstrous weather disaster on the eastern seaboard is yet one more lesson from Mother Nature – who always bats last.  We have not heeded those warnings in the past.  Could Hurricane Sandy be the tipping point?  It would have been a lot ‘easier’ if we had listened to the smart people, i.e. the overwhelming majority of scientists who for the past few decades have warned of climate change.  But aside from a few positive steps – home energy efficiency incentives and recent increases in fuel economy requirements being two – we have largely continued with our ‘business as usual’ approach to fossil fuel-powered energy.  That means atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to accumulate, the planet continues to warm, and weather grows more extreme.  And, depending on Tuesday’s election outcome, we may jam down the accelerator even harder.  This will continue what I call our national energy policy – ‘Find lots more coal and oil, and burn it all up, fast!’

Some want to continue with playing dumb, or what I call ‘pignorance.’ (Pignorance = pretend ignorance.)  They look for uncertainty – including the fossil-fuel-tycoon-manufactured uncertainty reported last week by Frontline – and use it to block sustainable policy.  This comparison critiques this approach.  Let’s say you have heart disease.  You go to 100 doctors.  98 of them say you need bypass surgery.  Two say take two cheeseburgers and rest in your lounge chair.  The denialists want us to savor the cheeseburgers and hope for the best.  How about you?

Here is an example of what I am talking about – a comment I received on last week’s post.  “Warming is accelerating? REALLY? Then why did the Met Office in Britain just state there has been zero net warming over the last 16 years? By the way, hurricanes in late October are not all that rare and are certainly not a sign of climate change. In fact, in our record of storms spanning 1851 – to present, October ranks 3rd in terms of months with both the most hurricanes/tropical storms and the number of landfalling hurricanes/tropical storms. Hardly rare. Hardly a harbinger of…anything. Please stop the propaganda – the SCIENTIFIC facts don’t back you up.”

Do you see the straw man?  Nowhere in last week’s post do I suggest that an October hurricane is unusual or by itself proof of climate change.  But the confluence of factors – a late-season hurricane fueled by warmer-than-average ocean waters merging with a nor-easter and Arctic air, and pushed west by a blocking pattern over the warmer Arctic, is EXTREMELY unusual, and absolutely consistent with predictions by climate scientists.  And all that accelerating warming in the Arctic – if it is not our greenhouse gases, then it must be the sunspots, or a polar bear barbecue, or Santa opening more coal-powered sweatshops or something scientific like that.

But back to the Sandy question.  It is certainly a teachable moment, though it is sad that so many have to suffer so grievously for our collective pignorance.  The title of Bloomberg News’ cover story, written by Paul Barrett and reported here in Democracy Now! says it all.  Here, Chris Mathews takes on the continuing denialists (or ‘pigs’ as he calls them.  This AlterNet piece rightly points out that Sandy is a wake-up call if there ever was one.  And Seth Borenstein concisely covers all the issues here – Sandy’s weird path, documented sea rise that gives storm surges a vertical head start, and also mentions cutting-edge research that is hinting that unprecedented Arctic melting may be radically changing storm behavior in the Northern Hemisphere.  Heck, even Fox News offered a platform for climate scientist Michael Mann in Sandy’s wake.

So what is changing?  Well, for one thing, scientists (and mainstream journalists, we can only hope!) seem to be moving away from the reflexive caveat – the one about ‘no individual weather event can be tied to global warming, etc.’  See here for evidence of that change.  And here is a new attempt to explain a complex relationship – what we are doing to the atmosphere on the one hand and individual weather phenomena on the other.  George Lakoff and Chris Mooney took part in a panel discussion on Huffington Post that covered ‘systemic causation.’  Lakoff adds more detail here.

A new realization seems to be dawning as well that climate change is here and how and must be dealt with. Now that would be acting smart.  Aside from the madness of geoengineering (surveyed with concern here by Naomi Klein), this means two things. First – drastically cutting our greenhouse emissions.  The best idea I have seen on that front is ‘fee and dividend,’ as promoted by James Hansen.  Second – dealing with current and inevitable effects.  For threatened cities like New York, that means either ‘resilience’ or some kind of ocean barrier.  Neither is simple – or cheap.  Resilience means building up infrastructure, piece by piece.  Laborious, costly and extremely difficult – and beginning right now.  A more likely outcome in the long term – some kind of sea wall or barrier system.  Andrew Revkin covers the choices in this Dot Earth piece.  It looks expensive, but look at the long-term payback.   Probably the only thing that would cost more would be to do nothing – like North Carolina.

OK, I was going to leave Sandy for other topics and rants, but just before posting, I heard a Weekend Edition Sunday story that proves a couple of my points.  It is a story about the insurance industry and its exposure in the face of ever more extreme weather.  It includes some impressive statistics about the increase in extreme weather (and unrelated seismic) disasters that have hit North America in the last few years.  But it is not a very good story.  Why?  Though it is not a story about global warming per se, it has to include the old false equivalence that plagues such stories.  The reporter turns it into a story about how MANY hurricanes occur rather than the nature of such hurricanes.  And, since I like to give credit where it is due, I nominate one of the story’s sources for what I call the Poo-Poo Squad (an award I give to those public figures who, despite mounting evidence, continue to feed the Merchants of Doubt in their quest for business-as-usual, full-speed-ahead fossil fuel burning.).  Listen to how Karen Clark insists on playing dumb before a vast audience. “We’re not that smart,” she says.  Indeed.  Hardly any mention of  just what makes Sandy such an aberration – rising sea levels, storm track, width of wind field, slow storm progress, and on and on.  There’s another straw man.  A story like this does NOTHING for waking up the public to the need for rational, sustainable energy and climate policy.  That’s up to you and me, dear reader.  And if you want a graphical representation of Sandy, the frankenstorm for the ages (at least until the next one comes along in a few months or years), watch the short video of the week from Science Friday.  It’s a CAT scan of a monster.  Harder all the time to play dumb in the face of this evidence.  Hard, but alas, not impossible.

How to ‘Win’ an Election

Generally, you have to win more votes.  But there are other ways.  Remember 2004?  The current marathon, near its end, feels like that year to me.  Though Nate Silver of the 538 Blog continues to post a high probability of an Obama victory, I remain skeptical.  Remember, the GOP has the virtually all the big, Supreme-Court-blessed corporate money on its side, and so many more sophisticated tools at its disposal this cycle.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast has a new book that goes into all the demonically brilliant strategies – Billionaires and Ballot Bandits.  This ten-minute interview goes into all the ‘vote-culling’ tactics.  And even on the entirely legal side, there is always the odd sales pitch for Romney.  How about the one highlighted by Paul Krugman – elect Romney, or we will continue to obstruct Obama.  In other words, ‘Nice country you got here.  It’d be a shame if something bad happened to it.’

Of Civility and Thuggery

There has been much talk of civility – or its absence – in recent years.  This is no surprise, considering the creeping polarization of our national politics.  For commentator Bonnie Blodgett, it’s a distraction keeping us from dealing with the most important issues, and providing an opportunity for the power elite to concentrate their power.  Her Star Tribune column has a great punch line.  This same theme – in three parts – was the focus of this week’s This American Life.  Follow stories of friendships devastated by political disagreement, clandestine Democrats in red states, and an appalling display of in-your-face, take-no-prisoners politics in New Hampshire.  Listen to the whole one-hour program – Red State Blue State – right here.

Energy/Climate Progress – Two Stories

First – a good-news story from Denmark.  Second – despite the two presidential candidates falling all over themselves to tell us how much they love coal, there is some very good news on solar energy.

When the Going Gets Tough . . .

I have not been a big fan of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  But he is clearly the star of this Jon Stewart segment on ‘institutional competence.’  Do you think Willard and his team might be a little bit sorry he did not choose this guy for veep?  Watch for the segment from Fox News.  Priceless.

“The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election, the people who count the votes do.” – Joseph Stalin

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper





IBI Watch 10/14/12

14 10 2012

Two Years on, Two Years off . . . Sort of  //

The Iowa Caucus to Election Day spans nearly two years.  Think about that.  It takes about half a term in order to select the president to serve that term.  And during the two years ‘off,’ candidates spend much time seeking contributions for the next campaign.  And for Congress, it arguably is worse – shorter term, less time ‘off’ from campaigning.  Is it any wonder that our national leaders are paralyzed on so many important issues – national debt, financial regulation, environmental protection, and on and on?

This is one of the most extreme examples of American ‘exceptionalism.’  And what is the result of that extended, serious, thoughtful deliberation, heh heh?  A final, forced choice, for many, of the lesser of two evils.  Other countries have much more compact election seasons, and with good reason – the business of government should be to serve the people, not to solicit money from well-heeled sponsors in order to ensure election to another term of serving those well-heeled sponsors.

But another factor is in play here.  The whole spectacle entertains us.  Most political coverage centers on the horse race, not policy decisions. Who will win?  Who will lose?  That election is over, let’s get onto the next.

I think Matt Taibbi has it right in this piece on hype over substance.  I have often said that dialing back the campaign season would allow more time for the business of governing.  His demand for a six-week presidential contest goes further than I have argued, but more power to him.

One giant step in this direction would be getting the big money out of politics.  Here is a group working to do just that – just see its name.  And here is another, targeting the outrageous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

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Biden Steps it up . . . Too Much?

The vice presidential debate provided a lot more for progressives to cheer about, compared to the lackluster performance of President Obama in his first meeting with Governor Romney.  But I found myself thinking – this is no way to run a debate.  So many times, I wanted to shout at Joe Biden, “Let Ryan finish, would you?!”  Still, the man from Scranton was energized and on message, even if more than a little overbearing, and was able to debunk a lot of what the Congressman said.  But don’t just listen to me – try Robert Reich.

Climate Policy Paralysis, by Design

One thing is clear about the current presidential campaign, including the debates.  There is hope, of course, that the upcoming town hall format will allow citizens to bring the climate crisis into consideration, but so far it has been virtually absent.  Heck, the president even let Romney tell us how much he ‘loves coal’ in that first debate, with nary a response.  But with the incredibly extensive and rapid Arctic summer ice melt just behind us (here is a pessimistic view from the Irish Times), you have to wonder – what will it take for our politicos to give this incredibly serious issue its due, and start to craft policy that starts moving us in the right direction?

This short video on the work of the late Stephen Schneider – Climate Science and Media Distortion – explains a lot.  In just 12 minutes, it runs through a capsule history of climate science and the accompanying political battle – including the ignominious starring role by Minnesota’s own pignorant space cadet, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  But the real value here is the discussion of the choices and value judgments that are in play here, and recounting of the pervasive distortion of the science and its implications by fossil fools and their stooges. And speaking of that band of criminals, there is no greater force on their side than Fox News.  This video shows the unofficial right-wing propaganda organ at its worst.  Who knew what a star in this realm was the great Sean Hannity?!  Heck, he could give the Windbaugh himself a run for his money!  The news here (if you can call it news) – the distortion is systemic, strategic, and completely connected to big oil interests.  That would be the Koch Brothers and of course Exxon Mobil.

Other Countries, Other Climate Ideas

Just because our corporate-controlled system has prevented rational climate policy here in our great nation, that does not mean other advanced nations have to stand pat in pignorance with us.  As this Grist story reports, Norway is doing something we need to do – raising the carbon tax (we don’t even have one of those!) and using the money to help the world.  And there is good news from Germany – a big advance in efficiency of solar cells.  And from Britain’s Guardian newspaper, here is an interactive web page featuring the best climate preservation ideas from 50 different sources – including both prominent thinkers and interested citizens.  Many good ideas here.

Institutionalized Greed in Three Hefty Portions

Sometimes, it is entertaining to see the greediest of the greedy caught in their own webs.  At other times, the advance of unfettered greed in modern America is something to be very concerned about.  First, the saga of the empty seats in the new Yankee Stadium just goes on and on.  I would have loved to see those ushers shooing (relatively) low-buck fans into the penthouse perches – to maintain the TV illusion.  Beautiful.  But sorry, folks, that’s the end of the entertainment for now.  Read as Professor Krugman warns us of the wrong policies just ahead in case a certain corporatist candidate prevails.  And then there is the tale of the powerful capitalist and self-styled kingmaker.  He tells his minions, ‘Vote this way. Or else.’  Ah, America.

Two Minnesota Republicans, Two Views on Voter Suppression

Of course Governor Arne Carlson is a former politician.  In today’s Minnesota Republican Party, full of the likes of Mary Kiffmeyer, he would be shown the door in a hurry.  Guess which one thinks the voter ID amendment protects against voter fraud – that great ghost of a phantom of a problem – and which one thinks the whole enterprise is a gigantic sham of an antidemocratic boondoggle.  Right you are.

The Numbers We Dare not Mention

Name the environmental problem.  Man-made climate change.  Deforestation.  Loss of wildlife habitat.  Declining biodiversity.  Ocean dead zones.  We can see each as a discrete issue.  Or we can dig down to the root cause.  That is just what this blog post by Ingrid Hoffman does – which is why I like it so much.  And if that whets your appetite for greater understanding about how continued rapid human population growth drives all environmental problems, check this little illustrated article on the concept of exponential growth.  It is posted by an organization that I support.  If you visit, check the right side of the screen.

The Twilight Zone I Would Create . . .

Those who deny the science of evolution generally do so on religious grounds.  If the bible is literally true, well then how could the world be four billion years old.  Case closed.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Even my church of origin – Roman Catholic – affirms evolution.

Bill Nye has something to say about all this – and his recent short video generated no small controversy in Jesusland.

Next stop, the Twilight Zone.  You see, if I could write this crowd into an episode of my favorite classic TV show, it would look like this.  Everyone who does not ‘believe in evolution’ would wake up tomorrow to a world where they get their wish.  Evolution is not true.  All is happy in this magical world.  The earth is 6000 years old, give or take a few Sabbaths.  Oh, and all denizens get no benefit from any scientific discovery based on evolution.  Happy Tales.

The Ice Chronicler

Photographer James Balog has done us a great service.  Putting himself at tremendous risk, and deploying technology in the most precarious of settings, he has produced a volume of first-hand evidence of the climate crisis as it is playing out in the Arctic – mainly Greenland and Alaska.  The real-time change is nothing short of shocking.  I highly recommend this interview done by Bill Moyers.  You can also see a collection of his extreme photography here.  If you watch the Moyers interview, you might pick up on the fact that he is a former ‘climate change skeptic.’  His quote about his daughters strongly resonated with me.  He muses about what they will think in a changed world decades hence – that is, what they will think about how little our generation did to recognize, mitigate and halt this climate crisis of our own making.  Indeed.

 “People would rather believe than know.”
Edward O. Wilson

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper





IBI Watch 8/19/12

19 08 2012

Extreme Hydrocarbons – Extreme Consequences //

The easy oil is gone.  What remains is the tough stuff – deep below the ocean, far up in the thawing Arctic, and diffused through sand below arboreal forests.  All have grave risks, including tar sands oil.  The folly of producing the gooey stuff in the first place is apparent to anyone who looks into the practice. This TED Talk is a good introduction.

I had been skeptical about the special risks of transporting tar sands oil – until I listened carefully to this NPR story on the Kalamazoo River pipeline spill.

Want a bright spot in the hydrocarbon picture?  How about this – a big drop in US greenhouse gas emissions.  No question, a positive development if true.  But it is almost certainly due mostly to power plants switching to natural gas, which was produced by fracking – which of course has its own enormous risks.

And with that gas boom, creating unstable demand, what’s a poor coal industry to do?  Globalize!  It’s win-win.  India moves toward stable electricity, US coal producers find a rapidly growing market, US jobs are protected.  Oh yes, there is that global warming thing, but we’ll think about that tomorrow!

Until we enact a carbon tax, the atmospheric changes we are causing – documented nicely here and here – will only get worse.  NASA meteorologist James Hansen has an integrated, great set of proposals.  We would be wise to listen. . . and act.

Beyond Stigma

It’s hard to believe that, here in 2012, mental health issues are still ignored in so many cases.  And when we do seek treatment, the counseling is often associated with a church.  My son Brendan – soon to be a doctoral student in neuroscience – recently delivered a presentation to the Secular Students Alliance conference that focuses on non-faith-based, i.e., scientific methods of treating mental disorders.  Presentation here; slides here.  Recommended.

Ryan Hood

Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has spent years proselytizing on behalf of Ayn Rand and her cult of the individual, while claiming to be an adherent to Roman Catholicism.  He has been able to ignore that inconvenient matter of the Beatitudes and whatnot.  Now that the spotlight is on the GOP’s vice presidential candidate, he claims to have rethought his longstanding enthusiasm for the Objectivist philosopher and author.  His budget plan – featuring additional tax cuts for the wealthiest, while cutting support for the disadvantaged – argues otherwise.

Here are two views of the Christianity vs. Randism question.  First, CNN’s Stephen Prothero takes a theological approach.  He holds that Rand’s philosophy is its own sort of atheistic religion, and lists five points that make Objectivism and Christianity polar opposites.  And – a clever touch – he warns of Rand disciples who will post comments blasting him for using the ‘r’ word at all.  And Gary Weiss – author of Ayn Rand Nation – argues that smilin’ Paul can’t have it both ways.

Leaving aside the philosophical contradiction, what do Ryan’s policies mean to the American economy and to citizens?  Paul Krugman speculates on what the first ten years after implementation of Ryan’s budget would look like – and sees nothing but red ink.  This Think Progress piece lists a dozen things we should know about the new guy.  Hey – Glenn Beck loves him!  The Rand/Christianity matter is not the only ambiguity about Ryan.  He rants and rants against government bailouts, and Keynesian spending, but when it comes to bringing home the bacon, that’s a different matter.  (Sort of reminds you of his Objectivist hero, that individualist collector of Social Security and Medicare benefits!)  And then there is Ryan’s pursuit of individual benefits – his own.

Mitt, Re-Mitt

It’s modern American politics.  Candidates re-invent themselves – on the sly.  They are staunch conservatives.  They have always been staunch conservatives.  It is positively Orwellian.  Recent history offers one of the most consequential examples, of a different sort.  In 2002-3, with a new president completely in the thrall of neocons bent on turning Iraq into an international oilman’s paradise, we were bombarded with propaganda about just how evil its dictator was.  There was no talk of how, just a few years earlier, Saddam Hussein was our well-funded henchman.  Then came the war, when we were to be welcomed as liberators.  The rest is, well, history . . . if anyone cares to pay attention.

Today, without any admission of the facts, or nod to irony, Mitt Romney’s candidacy for president depends on widespread ignorance of history – his own.  Will the American public let him get away with this preposterous pignorance (pretend ignorance)?  Just take a quick look at three key issues.

When he governed Massachusetts, Romney was one of those ever-rarer Republicans who would often earn progressives’ respect.  Consider his respect for climate science, and actions in favor of sustainable energy.  (That piece, by the way, is the work of Joe Romm – who also does outstanding work at the Climate Progress blog.)  Or think about his current NRA-friendly stance on assault rifles.  Governor Romney had a sensible position on banning the most dangerous weapons, while respecting Second Amendment rights.  That was then, this is now.  But no Romney stance stretches the facts further, or demands more Animal Farm-like revisionist history, than his attacks against President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.  That plan, ridiculed as ‘Obamacare’ by Romney and most other Republicans, is pretty much a national clone of Governor Romney’s Massachusetts plan.

Well-stoked public ignorance of history served President W well in his run-up to war.  That war brought immense costs – in life and treasure.  And now, Mitt Romney wants to be a president who would be very different from Governor Romney.  Will the public let him get away with it?  He and his supporters are counting on the bleating sheep (see Animal Farm) to drown out those who demand historical accounting.  The debates will be entertaining, but not necessarily enlightening.  The debate I would like to see is the one that will not happen – in this corner of the stage, Governor Willard Mitt Romney; in the opposite corner, Candidate Willard Mitt Romney.

Forget the Fair Fight

It’s clear that the voter ID laws springing up like so many toadstools around the country are part of the GOP victory plan.  But giving the (undeserved) benefit of the doubt, that they really are designed to protect the vote, and not restrict it to their chosen few, this article provides some astute analysis.  And Ohio – ground zero of the 2004 election games – is rapidly becoming a special case of ‘protecting the vote.’  Even with the latest ‘special enhancements,’ most electoral projection maps are looking pretty good for President Obama.  But I am skeptical.  So is Jon Stewart.

A Little Help Going a Long Way

I found this NPR story a fitting antidote to self-interest on steroids as a way of national life.  Participation Nation celebrates altruism – something that Ayn Rand derided as a sign of weakness.

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links or content to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper, Mike Kuehn, Brendan Murphy





IBI Watch 8/12/12

12 08 2012
  • Plagues Upon Ourselves   //
    It has been easy for many Americans to ignore the perils of manmade climate change.  Until the recent dramatic uptick in extreme weather, it has been an issue for others to worry about – poor countries, low-lying islands, lovers of polar bears.  But more Americans are waking up to the issue.  And as the health effects of our vast uncontrolled experiment in atmospheric tinkering become clearer, all but the most durably pignorant (pretend ignorant) will start taking reality seriously.  And that has to help us make the necessary change away from a system that runs entirely on corporate money.  We can only hope.

    Here are three stories that focus on climate change’s immediate and rapidly evolving effects on human health.  First, here is a Daily Climate story on the evolution of climate-related diseases. Anthrax anyone?  How about some cholera?  And this story has a Minnesota connection.  Two deaths in the same Stillwater MN lake, attributed to a rare amebic meningitis that can thrive only in 80-degree waters, have spooked the public.  This Scientific American story from 2008 lists a swarm of diseases headed toward what used to be cooler, inhospitable climes.  Surely, we can’t be pignorant enough to let climate change’s effects destroy our health before we act to stop it.  Or could  we?

    Listen to those Cassandras

    James Hansen’s recent article connecting extreme weather with manmade climate change has made quite a stir, and continues to ripple.  Daily Climate’s Michael Mann (author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars) has an enlightening commentary.  I especially like his admission of his former skeptical perspective, and his reminder that so many dismissed Hansen in 1988 as an alarmist arm-waver.  Sadly, some are doing the same right now.  But Hansen was dead-on in his assessment and predictions in 1988.  Odds are, he is once again today.  We ignore him at our peril.  This New York Times piece digs into the implications of Hansen’s latest study, which compares the global climate of 1951 to 1980, before the bulk of global warming had occurred, with the climate of the years 1981 to 2011.  It also contains many links worth exploring.  And this John Broder article in the Times explores similar territory.

    Clear Evidence, Near and Far

    When I visited Glacier National Park four years ago, I saw some large, dark, bare hills that looked like glaciers had recently departed.  And of course that is consistent with the sad, ongoing trend that will lead to the park needing a new name within a decade or two.  (“The Park that Coal Melted?”)  But I could not say that for certain, lacking a historical context.  That’s not the case with MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner, who reported first-hand on dramatic climate change effects in the Black Hills.  Here are two terrific, time-delay animations from NASA.  The first shows the spread of extremely hot summer weather in the northern hemisphere since the mid-1950s.  The second shows the dramatic shift over that same time in temperature anomalies, toward the hot side of course.  So much for that ‘compensating cool weather’ you hear denialists point out when anyone tries to mention the pervasive US drought of 2012.  Far to the north, this video documents Greenland’s faster melting.  But don’t worry – the melt has increased only 30-fold.  Then there’s this Guardian piece talking about how much faster Arctic ice is disappearing.  And, just in time to speed up the process is an unusual Arctic cyclone that is spinning through as I write.  Just read the consequences of this storm, and imagine when one of these monsters pops up when Shell’s underwater oil drilling is going full bore.  It will make the Exxon Valdez disaster look like a picnic with the seals.  But again, not to worry.  The storm is not unprecedented.  But it sure is impressive, and portentous.

    Prescription: Mitigation and Adaptation

    Thanks to our greed and pignorance, we have allowed the planetary disease of climate change to fester to a critical state.  There is still time to control the fever – if we muster the political will.  The idea of cap and trade as a strategy for controlling emissions has been widely discredited, and pretty much abandoned.  But its cousin – cap and dividend (also called fee and dividend)  has much promise. It’s the dreaded carbon tax – a fee on carbon-emitting fuels – but with a twist.  The revenue collected is distributed to the people.  They then end up keeping more of the dividend if they make environmentally wise choices.  The fee increases over time, encouraging reduction in use of dirty fuels, and establishment of alternatives. Karyn Strickler interviewed Mike Sandler, a prominent advocate for this strategy.  Of course, if we keep electing politicians who deny the science for their own oily reasons (Can you say Mitt?  How about Inhofe?), there will never be political will for such a shift.

    So that is one strongly recommended idea for mitigation.  Here is one for adaptation.

    Rise of the Randians?

    Mitt Romney’s eagerly awaited VP choice proved dramatic and controversial.  Paul Ryan’s claim to fame is a budget that purports to bring balance – but exacts a dear price from middle class taxpayers while serving – of course – the ‘job creators.’  No surprise there – the ‘job creator’ myth owes no small favor to Ayn Rand, the creator of Objectivism and that fictional hero of free-market capitalism, John Galt.  So Ryan is merely being true to his principles – a refreshing change from his new boss, who is running against his own biggest success (health care reform), and has renounced his own ‘belief’ in the science of climate change.  But wait.  Congressman Ryan may not be so true.  This one-time (as recently as five months ago) unpaid salesman for Rand’s ideas now says he denounces his former guru.  So which is it?  We will find out soon, I guess.  But I am betting on his clinging to Rand.  Why?  Her system builds plutocracy best in the long run. That’s the real Ryan agenda.

    A Declaration for Our Times

    IBI Watch reader Ron Weitbrecht took pen in hand and created a statement of principles that are on the money for our current state of affairs.

    The Declaration of Subjugation

    “We hold these truths to be self evident, that rich men (not women) are created more equal than others. That they are endowed by their bankers with certain inalienable entitlements, that among these are perpetual profits, eternal corporate welfare, and tax free subsidies. That to secure these perks, governments are purchased among men, deriving their powers from the ability to bribe and outspend. That whenever any form of government becomes unwilling to protect their status, it is the right of the corporations to invoke Citizens United and select their own politicians, laying the foundation of plutocracy and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their perpetual and ever increasing income disparity.”

    Vote Fraud – the Real and Fox News Editions

    The Republican-driven full-court press on voter identification allegedly seeks to solve an imaginary problem.  That would be the dreaded ‘voter fraud.’  Far from some well-meaning attempt to preserve electoral integrity, this is a desperate Republican power grab – a kinder, gentler poll tax.  It is the culmination of a long GOP effort to restrict the vote enough to guarantee their victory.  This AlterNet article fingers the 2000 election as the starting point for the new ‘electoral’ strategy.  The star of the video, of course, is the Supreme Court Justice with massive ego and attitude to match – the driver of the political decision to stop counting votes and select George W as president.  The eminent justice tells us to ‘Get over it.’  As for the voter fraud campaign, it’s hard to top Jon Stewart’s satirical critique.

    Cry of the Soul

    This audio postcard from the coast of Maine, created by novelist Roxana Robinson, is just the kind of respite from political madness that we so badly need.  Listen to Robinson’s evocative description of loons on Mount Desert Island . . . and then their haunting calls.  Beautiful.

    “Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.” 

    –       Henrik Tikkanen

    Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

    Contributed links or content to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper, Peta Kaplan, Ron Weitbrecht